Lent 5B’24 “Truth on the Inside”

17 March 2024
Jeremiah 31.31-34
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>
“I treasure your words in my heart, that I may not sin against you;” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. – From Psalm 119
“The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.” Anyone like to venture a guess as to where those words came from? “The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All is well.” Anyone? For diehard Potter fans you know it as the last sentence from the seventh and final volume of the Harry Potter novels, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. What a fitting end to the epic struggles and perilous dangers Harry Potter had to face in his earlier days. What if the author, JK Rowling had introduced the ending in the first volume or two, when things were far from “All was well.” It wouldn’t have made much sense. At the best it would be foretelling of a fortunate but distant outcome, and at the worst it would be a spoiler. Rowling was smart enough to save the true ending until last. It probably affected her fortune as well! 
Not so for the prophet, whose calling was to speak God’s truth before events ever happened. Their words would mostly fall on deaf ears, and depending on their timing, prophets could end up paying dearly with their very lives. Such was the case for the prophet Jeremiah. He had called the people to repent, to follow God’s law and forsake their idols and warned them that if they did not, they would face God’s judgment and be conquered by the Babylonians. They would not repent. Jeremiah then really does proclaim a spoiler for what God planned to do in the future:
“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” …What on earth could he be referring to? In spite of the positive but mysterious ending to his sermon he was taken captive to Egypt and was eventually stoned to death by the very people he had both warned and proclaimed good news to. 
Jeremiah didn’t live to see the fulfillment of his prophecy but in 587 BC King Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon’s armies invaded Jerusalem. Amid the violence they destroyed the temple built by Solomon, and took the people captive as slaves back to Babylon.  
Prior to this crisis brought on by breaking of the law there had been many other offenses: murder, betrayal, selling family members as slaves, having a husband killed so they could marry his wife, worshipping false gods, in short, the breaking of every commandment of God had occurred. These were not the acts of criminals but by the chosen people of God! What was beginning to sink in was that pounding the ten commandments into the heads of folks and hoping by knowledge and willpower people would do right, definitely wasn’t working. Making statues with the commandments carved on them and putting them in public places hadn’t worked. In fact, what we can now see looking back is that anything external was not going to enable folks to follow the commandments of God. Righteousness was going to have to be given as a gift and the laws of God were going to have to be written down alright, but not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of the heart! Change was afoot. And change is certainly afoot in our present day. 
Take a look at your bulletin and you will see an original piece of art created by “Bing” and artificial intelligence assistant. The app created by Microsoft is called “Copilot” and by speaking into the app on your phone and telling “Bing” what you would like it will generate something. What you see here is a piece of art based upon Jeremiah 31. 
In Jeremiah’s day God was going to do a new thing but it was going to take a while.   As we have recently heard the story of Jesus cleansing the temple to make way for the indwelling of God in the flesh and blood bodies of people rather than in temples built by hands. God was not content for people to know more about God, God wanted people to know God and to have a real connection with God through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  
In the midst of a destroyed temple and Babylonian captivity God was working God’s purposes out. ‘Sometimes when everything seems to be falling apart – they could be falling into place.’ I ran across a story that I think illustrates this point well. The story is called: “Your Hut Is Burning”
 The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements, and to store his few possessions.  But then one day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky.  The worst had happened; everything was lost.
He was stunned with grief and anger.  “God, how could you do this to me!” he cried.
Early the next day, he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to rescue him. “How did you know I was here?” asked the weary man of his rescuers. “We saw your smoke signal,” they replied.
Perhaps we might feel like our modern-day story of the church is “Your Hut is Burning.” Many churches are feeling the pain and pinch of fewer people and fewer dollars to work with in the post pandemic world. We live in a culture that is drunk on busyness, glued to our screens gaining more and more information while becoming less and less connected to God and each other. Unwilling to listen to political opinions different from our own and intolerant of those who are different from us. Yes, yes, all of this is true but what is equally true is that God is calling a people who will allow God from the inside out to write the Law of Love on their hearts, these people are becoming more and more hungry for reconciliation, for redemption of souls who have lost their way (regardless of how they vote) and desire to be bearers of Christ’s love. 
But first we must stop long enough to listen to and experience the still small voice, whispering God’s love for us and for everyone, to have the faith to believe that although things may seem to be falling apart that by God’s grace they are falling into place, then to yield to God’s writing of Love on the inside of us, on our hearts,  so that we can join St. Julian of Norwich in saying, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Amen.